B&Bs for getting into winter

This year we've all gotten way more winter than we probably want, and cabin fever seems rampant. So maybe getting out for some snow sports would be a great idea. To make that experience all the better, these rural bed-and-breakfast inns, all within 250 miles of Chicago, offer easy access to winter sports. Plus a mug of hot cider or hot chocolate likely will be within reach.

T&R Inn Between the Lakes, Three Rivers, Mich.: Toy and Ric Norton's converted farmhouse is 3 miles from the ski hills of Swiss Valley, where he is director of snow sports.

Overnight guests who want to learn or improve ski and snowboard skills are especially welcome. Norton, a certified instructor for decades, coaches all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens.

Getaway packages are tailored to the type and intensity of instruction. The VIP rate throws in lift tickets and rental of equipment and outer clothing.

"Most of my clientele are beginners," Norton said, "but we also use our hills to prepare skiers" for challenging downhill mountain runs elsewhere.

Less intense: Explore miles of nature trails on snowshoes (yours or theirs), or grab a plastic sled to whiz down a backyard hillside, then ease into the hot tub.

Lodging is in the owners' home or a cottage, $75 to $149. Pets are acceptable in one of the five guest rooms; some families rent two or three adjoining rooms as one suite. Breakfast is simple but hearty fare. 269-244-5620, innbetweenthelakes.com

If weather cooperates Friday, Norton will encourage midnight snowshoeing under the light of the full moon. T&R hosts mountain bikers, too, and is a sponsor of the 14- and 28-mile Melting Mann races, a first-time event March 8.

Justin Trails Resort, Sparta, Wis.: Dusty and Rusty are the resident llamas. George and Heidi are the love-to-run huskies. Donna and Don are the innkeepers, who converted their third-generation farm into a silent sports mecca.

About 150 of the Justins' 200 acres are hilly forest in southwest Wisconsin's Driftless Area. Explore it on foot, ski or snowshoe. Another option is skijoring, in which a dog pulls a skier, linked together by a sturdy line. The property also has off-leash areas for dogs.

A $5 daily trail pass includes an inner tube for sliding. Skis and snowshoes are rented for an additional fee or bring your own. Guided tours of the property and snow sports lessons are by appointment.

On the resort are six lodging spots in a house, cottage and cabin for $135 to $325. Children and pets are welcome. 608-269-4522, justintrails.com

Breakfast is served in the lodge, a former machine shed. House-made granola is so popular that it is sold by the take-home bag.

Home brewers of beer and wine share samples there March 15. In summer, Justin Trails is home to professional disc golf competition.

Mission Oak Inn, Henry, Ill.: Borrow snowshoes for a walk on snow-covered fields, cut a trail through the woods or circle a private lake on the 120-acre grounds of this two-suite getaway southwest of Chicago.

Ice fishing is available, too, if guests bring their own equipment (including an auger to find open water). Bluegill and crappie are the most likely winter catches.

Fish that take the bait are released or stored in coolers brought from home. Health regulations prevent the B&B operators from cleaning and cooking these fillets — but they will, for an extra $49 to $74 per couple, prepare dinner from their own menu.

"The first couple to order dinner sets the menu for everybody else" who makes meal reservations, co-owner Jan Reed said. Husband Denny does the cooking. Guests who want alcohol bring their own.

Lodging is $169 per night at this adults-only inn. Everybody gets a slice of from-scratch cheesecake before bedtime. In-room massages can be arranged. 309-370-4083, missionoakinn.com

Both suites contain a two-sided fireplace and whirlpool big enough for two. Breakfast specialties include puff pancakes and stuffed French toast.

The Outback Lodge, Stanwood, Mich.: Sleigh rides are easy and cozy thanks to layers of quilts and the hoofed crew that Kent and Sue Parker hitches up for romantic and family outings. The price depends on how many are along for the ride.

"We've had lots of marriage proposals," Sue Parker said. Overnight guests at this horse ranch typically take a sleigh ride before dinner, which is served family style.

Pony rides and riding lessons are scheduled at the Outback's arena and training rings. Wannabe ranch hands can learn to groom horses and saddle them. Some guests board their own horse for $15 per day and ride the area's wooded, snow-covered hills.

The dining room has deliberately mismatched furniture, antiques and collectibles. Silverware is wrapped in bandannas. Dinner ends with a pass-the-plate dessert assortment: cream puffs, red velvet cake and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Decor in the two-story house is down-home and earthy. Think bed frames made of logs and Amish-made rocking chairs. The seven rooms and suites accommodate as many as 20 people. Children are welcome. Pets are allowed only in the Wrangler Cottage. Overnight rates are $89 to $129 and include breakfast. 231-972-7255, outback-lodge.com

During February, a sleigh ride and dinner is $75 per couple ($150 for a private ride in the eight-person sleigh).

Inn at Wawanissee Point, Baraboo, Wis.: The 144,000-acre Baraboo Range is a Natural National Landmark because of its ecological diversity. This remote, bluff-top estate sits in the middle of it, and on a clear day guests see three dozen miles of lush hills and valleys.

Behind a wall of windows are binoculars and a telescope. Outdoors are dozens of acres to examine by foot or in snowshoes borrowed from innkeepers Dave and Trudy Holdener. Their Ringling and Big Boulder trails pass woodlands, a stream and wildlife tracks, from deer to turkeys.

"Wawanissee" is a Native American word for "beautiful." What began as the Holdeners' private retreat now is shared with other nature lovers.

Three miles away is Devil's Lake State Park and its abundance of winter sports, including ice climbing and ice fishing — at your own risk. Seven miles of cross-country ski trails are groomed, and sledding on a hill near the Nature Center is popular, but no equipment is rented.

Four rooms are rented at this adults-only inn, and rates begin at $219. That includes breakfast and a wine/cheese hour. 608-355-9899, innatwawanisseepoint.com

Hand-carved woodwork, a two-story fireplace, baby grand piano and sauna add a sense of luxury. Seats at a tidy and well-stocked bar overlook those gorgeous bluffs.

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